MDb Review: Metroid Zero Mission: by TJ

Since movie and game creators seem to get upset when people call their remakes "remakes," I suppose the best way of referring to Metroid Zero Mission is a "re-envisioning," or a "re-imagining," or...uh...ah screw it. It's a remake.

But as far as I'm concerned, there's nothing wrong with that. To me, remakes don't take anything away from the original work on which they're based. Their purpose is not to replace the original, nor to put down those who poured their hearts and souls into creating it. Rather, they're saying hey, the original was SO good, that we decided to take its concept and explore it even further now that our technology allows us to do so. And if you don't like it, well, nobody's telling you that you can't dust off your NES and fire up your old Metroid cart anymore.

That said, what I really hope for in a remake is a work which retains all the elements which made the original great, while adding enough new material to surprise and intrigue even those fans who are intimately familiar with its ancestor. In my opinion, Nintendo did a wonderful job in this respect.

The first thing you'll notice is sort of an American comic book art style permeating both the game itself and the artwork on and in the package. Some backgrounds have an almost Jack Kirby-esque quality to them, with lots of solid blacks and bright colors.

With a wink to the original Metroid, many graphical and design elements were retained. Even the Metroid logo on the title screen has that same pseudo-3D look, with the same color scheme of blue with orange trim, and the occasional animated sparkle fluttering along its edges, as the whole thing hovers in the starry night sky over the surface of the planet. Samus, as seen in many of the preview videos circulating on the Internet prior to the game's release, runs quickly and with her gun arm held out -- just like in the original. (One video, found for a brief period of time on Nintendo's Japanese website, showed an early build with even more cartoony graphics, bringing back Samus' large bubble-headed helmet, more in keeping with the style of the first game. The final version, of course, gives her more realistic proportions.)

While some elements pay tribute to the original, new additions include cutscenes (much more brief than those found in Fusion, but just as beautifully rendered), Chozo heiroglyphs, and even a new armorless Samus (we'll get into the story behind that in a moment). Armored Samus also has a cool blue-shadow-trail effect when she jumps, for no apparent reason other than it makes her look sleeker (or perhaps as a nod back to Castlevania -- since Symphony of the Night and subsequent CV games were heavily Metroid-influenced, perhaps Metroid is taking a cue or two from them as well?). The new material works well with that which is inspired by the old.

All in all, MZM continues the tradition of high quality visuals and brings Samus' first encounter with the Space Pirates up to speed with her other 2D adventures.

No worries here, as all our favorite themes from Metroid are not only retained, but reworked and made even more hauntingly beautiful than they were on the NES. Themes from Super Metroid, including the boss battle themes, Samus' theme, and the Crateria theme make their appearances, giving the game a nice audio tie-in to the chronologically later titles in the series.

New musical themes include the "sneaking" music found in the post-Mother Brain sequence and some spooky incidental pieces heard upon encountering directional clues from the Chozo statues and the acquisition of Unknown Items. Good stuff all.

Although the control in the 1986 game seemed flawless at the time, Nintendo has continued to refine it over the span of four more 2D games. MZM boasts the smoothest control over Samus yet, with every feature found in all of its predecessors, from bomb jumping to wall jumping (more forgiving this time than in Fusion, yet still not quite as exploitable as in Super), ledge-grabbing to spring-balling. It's fun to explore those old areas with new abilities, even if we can't get stuck in the doors and find "secret worlds" anymore.

Take all of the above elements, combine them into your standard Super Metroid model, and then floor the gas pedal -- MZM plays fast. The other Metroid games, as fluid and challenging as they were at the time, run at a fraction of the speed of Zero Mission. Why they decided to hasten the gameplay, I'm not sure, but I think I love it. Samus seems so much more lithe and acrobatic at higher speeds, underscoring her reputation as a badass mercenary.

For the most part, the gameplay of MZM is quintessential Metroid -- if you've played the original and Super, you know what to expect, with none of the tweaks that Metroid II or Fusion lobbed our way. The addition of blatant hints from Chozo statues may turn off some hardcore adventurers -- an option to disable this probably would have shut them up. However, some nice additions were made, such as instant energy refills attained by Morph Balling up in the hands of the statues, and new gadgets found in the labyrinths like the zip lines and Morph Ball shooters. Additional bosses have been conjured up as well, although Kraid (now as huge as he was in Super, so no more questions about his ridiculous growth spurt) and Ridley are still the main two beasts which must be dispatched to gain access to the Mother Brain.

Where the game throws us a total curve, however, is after the battle with Mother Brain in Tourian. While the original game made us escape the facility before it self-destructs and then greeted us with the ending credits, Zero Mission doesn't stop there. As Samus escapes the planet, she is attacked by Space Pirates and her ship is shot down. Landing back on Zebes, an armorless Samus must sneak her way through the Pirates' mothership and re-equip her powered suit, then make a daring escape. The sneaking mission is a complete departure from the rest of the Metroid series, and some may view it as a break from the action -- as well as from Metroid tradition. I do agree that it feels a bit like a tacked-on epilogue, but at the point when Samus uses the Unknown Items and the link between her original Metroid 1 armor and the beefed-up Metroid 2 armor is explained, it all makes sense.

What I love about this is that Nintendo probably knew that we wanted to see the return of "armorless Samus" as featured in the original Metroid. However, Nintendo are always so sly about giving us what we want, but not in the way we're expecting. (For example, they could have just put out a collection of old NES games on the Gamecube that would have cost them almost no money or effort, but instead they integrated all the classics into Animal Crossing and made us work for them.) By adding the stealth sequence to the end of Zero Mission, they gave us our armorless Samus again, but they also gave us a reason to play as armorless Samus. It's that kind of thinking that sets Nintendo's designers apart from the rest.

Strangely, Nintendo consoles have been the place to be for remakes of milestone games: the Gamecube has the spectacularly updated versions of Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid, and the GBA has hosted the likes of Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland (a spifftastic version of the NES masterpiece, Kirby's Adventure) and now Metroid Zero Mission. I'm not sure what this says about Nintendo and their place in the industry, but to gamers with an appreciation for the history and fascination with the future of videogames, it's kinda cool.

As I said earlier, MZM will never replace the original Metroid. (It doesn't even try to; NES Metroid is unlocked after finishing ZM.) But it does take the story and fit it a bit more snugly into the canon of the series, and flesh out the original concept nicely. Significance to the world aside, though, MZM is fun as heck and definitely a rewarding experience for Metroid vets.


MDb Review: Metroid Zero Mission: by Asaic

I was pretty hyped about Zero Mission, right from the start. Some of my fondest memories are from playing the original Metroid. I'm a "newer-is-better" kinda guy, so I was all for a remake of one of my favorite games of all time.

The screenshots and movies came along, and the hype increased. Every new teaser looked better than the last. This game just couldn't come out soon enough. Then February 9th, 2004 hit, and there I was, playing Metroid Zero Mission. And it was awesome. It fully lived up to my expectations.

This is a retelling of the original Metroid, what really happened during Samus Aran's first invasion of the Space Pirate base on the planet Zebes. The game is bigger and the story is more detailed. It extends beyond the battle with the Mother Brain and adds a new element of gameplay to extend the enjoyment factor.

We all know the background story from the original game's instruction booklet, and that part hasn't changed. What has changed is the actual mission itself. Cutscenes have been added to flesh out the details and introduce the antagonists, one at a time, as well as to set the mood for the next zone or battle. The scenes are short enough not to interfere with the pacing of the gameplay, and cover every necessary aspect. You won't be walking away with any questions.

The additions of the Chozo lore and glimpses of Samus' past fit in well with what has been established in comics during the 90's and hinted at in Metroid Prime. While I'm not a fan of the "raised-by-Chozo" storyline, it's upheld in an interesting way in Zero Mission. You're not beat over the head with it, but it is still ever-present.

Samus Aran has never had tighter control. From blasting to wall jumping to bomb climbing, Metroid has never played so well. It doesn't take many tries to do exactly what you want to do, even if that means horizontal bomb climbing, or carrying a speed charge through several rooms. In fact, it kind of makes the game too easy. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I'd rather play a game that is too easy because of perfect control than one that is too difficult because of lousy control.

The only big problem I have with the gameplay is the speed. It's too fast. To cover the same amount of distance in the original Metroid would take nearly twice as long. Even Metroid Fusion didn't play this fast. This really does make the game short. You're covering nearly twice as much area as in the orignal, yet you can finish the entire thing in less time. If the developers has just extended the two-hour time limit for the best endings to four hours and slowed down the gameplay, then the game would have been that much better. The short length of the game hurts, especially because there is so much to see and do. It's all over much too quickly. And multiple play-throughs don't help much, because the game just begs to be played at full speed. If you try to take your time, you feel like a senior with a walker. I really wish they would have slowed the game down. It kind of feels arcade-like in its fast pacing.

The speed can be exciting during boss battles, however. I would have preferred a slower, more tactical fight, but a fast and furious battle is still good fun. Ridley was a blast. Far too easy, but still fun nonetheless.

I wasn't too impressed with the stealth section, though. While it is great to play as an armorless Samus again and the control is very good, it is still very difficult to avoid taking hits from the Space Pirates once they've seen you. And several places require absolutely perfect timing to avoid being seen, something that requires more luck than skill. I think the problems are mostly attributed to the level layout. All of Chozodia was a pain to navigate, even with the fully-powered suit. Thankfully, it's a short section of the game.

Many people complained about the "hint" system in Metroid Fusion, preferring to find things on their own. Unfortunately for them, it's back, only a little less intrusive this time. Many of the hint-giving Chozo statues can be avoided. It's not a big deal for those of us who are experienced with the original game, though, as all of the items are still in the same spots as before.

"Sequence breaking" is back in Zero Mission, only this time it's intentional. Many hidden passages lie in wait for the intrepid explorer who likes to play the game their way. In response to the complaints of no sequence breaking in Metroid Fusion, the developers have gone out of their way to set up various sequences for us to take, making the game path very customizable. In fact, it's so easy to sequence break now that most people will do it at least once on their first time through the game, not even realizing it. They will later come across a new Chozo statue that won't give a hint because you've already gone out of your way to find that item on your own.

New to North American Metroid fans are the difficulty settings. Normal is pretty easy, Hard is a good challenge, and Easy is for your dog, who could probably beat it with his eyes closed on that setting. Complete Normal mode to unlock Hard mode, and to access the original Metroid, which will then be accessible from the Options menu. Normal and Hard modes must both be played in several different ways to unlock all eight endings. As usual, these are affected by time and item percentage.

Zero Mission comes out on top, with a dark, stylized atmosphere that looks fairly realistic. Original screenshots and videos had the game appearing in a somewhat super-deformed anime style, and fortunately that style has made way for the current graphics we have now. They look great, and fit the Metroid style perfectly. Samus looks tough and agile, and the enemies look more menacing than ever. The bosses take the cake, however, as they are all huge and very detailed.

Everything is well animated, and every zone of the game has multiple texture sets. You won't be seeing the same backgrounds for long, because nearly every set of rooms has something new. This is very refreshing, compared to the original. While we don't get lost so easily in Zero Mission due to the distinction of each area, it makes up for it in the richness of what we're seeing. There is so much difference, in fact, that it makes each area feel smaller, as you don't get to see those textures for very long. Zero Mission is far above average in this regard; it would have looked fantastic with only half of the texture sets it has. There is nothing to complain about in this department.

Out of the music and the sound effects, I'm not sure which one I liked more. They were both great. The music tracks are all redone versions of the same tunes in the first game and Super Metroid, plus new tunes for the new areas. They all fit together, as if the original game always had these extra zones. While the remixing wasn't perfect, it was still very good. I can't complain.

The sound effects are right on. You will find modernized versions of all the old sounds, while still sounding as close to the originals as possible. They sound the way they always should have, without the 8- bit hardware limitations of the mid-1980's.

I think the only sounds I didn't like were Kraid and Ridley's voices. They don't sound very menacing with such high-pitched screams. But that isn't much different from Ridley in Metroid Fusion, so at least it's consistent.

Metroid Zero Mission is awesome. It has great graphics, sound and gameplay, and it takes us back to the good old days of Metroid. For those new(er) to the series, it gives them a modern way to experience its origin without the old-fashioned graphics and gameplay.

What else is there to say? If you don't already have Zero Mission, go get it! It might be the best Metroid game in your library.

Final Rating: 10/10